More than four million people have now been vaccinated against COVID-19 in the UK. But testing remains essential to identify positive cases and reduce the risk of the virus spreading. One such type of test is a lateral flow COVID test.

What is a lateral flow COVID test?

Lateral flow device (LFD) tests are administered to people showing no symptoms of COVID-19 but who may still be infectious


LFD testing is a quick way to determine whether you have the virus on the day of the test. Patients typically receive results within 10 to 30 minutes.


However, lateral flow device tests are not as accurate at detecting COVID in the early days of infection as other types of COVID tests.


It’s believed that LFD tests are only capable of picking up between 48 and 79% of positive cases depending on who administers them (e.g. a lab scientist vs an untrained member of the public). That means a significant portion of people infected with the virus will receive a falsely negative result.

How does lateral flow COVID testing work?

Lateral flow COVID testing involves the following steps: 


  • A swab sample is taken from the patient’s nose and/or mouth, and mixed with a buffer solution. This releases and breaks up virus fragments. 


  • Some of the solution is then added to the lateral flow device. An absorbent strip within draws up the solution containing the virus fragments.


  • These COVID virus fragments travel across the strip, until they reach a number of labelled antibodies. 


  • These antibodies recognise certain parts of the COVID virus fragments and bind to them. 


  • The antibodies that don’t become attached to parts of the virus attach to the strip’s control band. This causes a colour to show up on the strip which indicates that the test was successful. If no coloured band appears at the control point, the test is invalid and will need to be repeated.


  • If the person taking the test is infected with COVID-19, another band will appear between 10 and 30 minutes later. If no COVID-19 was detected in the patient, only one line (the control band) will show.

When can a lateral flow test prove useful?

The lateral flow test may not be the most accurate type of COVID test, but it does offer some value. This is mostly down to the ease and speed at which the tests can be done.


It’s particularly beneficial for detecting the virus in people who display no symptoms. This can halt a chain of transmission and reduce the risk of infected individuals passing COVID on to others. 


Lateral flow testing could also be helpful in screening people before they return to a shared workplace. Businesses which require employees to work on-site, rather than remotely, must take all precautions available to protect employees and members of the public — corporate COVID testing included. 


Lateral flow COVID tests at schools and universities may prevent infected students spreading the virus to their classmates and teachers. Such quick responses allow these tests to be performed every day. 


This type of testing has also been put in place for care home staff across England. News broke at the end of 2020 that workers would receive two lateral flow tests per week, alongside standard PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing to protect vulnerable people against the latest variant of the virus. 

LFD testing accuracy flaws 

Plans for daily LFD testing in schools have been placed on hold due to accuracy concerns


This follows recent revelations that school leaders were demanding “urgent clarity” on lateral flow tests for pupils, when it was revealed the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) had not authorised them as a way to keep children in schools if they came into contact with positive cases. 


Furthermore, lateral flow testing is believed to have correctly provided positive results to just 3.2% of students at the University of Birmingham. 


Due to these obvious accuracy flaws, lateral flow tests may be useful, but are not a dependable way to reduce the spread of COVID on their own. Other types of tests offer much greater accuracy and a relatively fast turnaround.

When is lateral flow testing not appropriate?

Experts have warned that lateral flow tests may be unsuitable for a “test and release” strategy. This means that a lateral flow test is not accurate enough to allow people with a negative result to end a period of self-isolation.


LFD testing’s lack of consistent reliability means that anyone preparing to exit a bubble, or enter a new one, should seek out more accurate tests. This is particularly important for anyone planning to travel outside the UK, even for urgent matters.


Most countries have their own regulations in place and require travellers to have specific COVID tests before arrival in their country. For example, Dubai allows travelers from the UK only if they: 


  • Present a negative PCR result from within 96 hours before departure.
  • Undergo a PCR test upon arrival at the airport.

What test provides greater accuracy than a lateral flow device test?

PCR tests are the most accurate form of COVID testing currently available.


A PCR test is a nucleic acid test capable of identifying whether you currently have COVID-19. This makes it ideal if you plan to travel, though you must still follow government guidelines to protect yourself and others from infection even if you receive a negative result.


Corona Test Centre’s PCR tests have an accuracy of 99.9%, and results are guaranteed within one to two days. The test involves taking a throat and nose swab sample. These are analysed seven days a week, so you even have the option of opting for same day delivery of results.


We also offer Fit to Fly tests which provide you with an added certificate, allowing you to travel to countries that require them like Japan, China, South Korea, and Hong Kong. 


Corona Test Centre’s PCR testing is administered by healthcare professionals, making them more accurate than self-administered home tests. We currently have clinics in Manchester, Birmingham, London, and Watford.


To learn more about our PCR tests, locations, and prices, contact Corona Test Centre’s team today.